Archive for May, 2010

As of the end of October, 2009, I had a clean, edited manuscript. It was still in some fifty chapters, one chapter per file and it had no curly quotes, em-dashes or ellipsis, but it was in Times New Roman, single-spaced, and with tabs rather than the Word formatting for paragraph indents. I’d also eliminated the headers and footers, as well as the page numbering, and tried to change my underlined text to italics. That much I did before I e-mailed the chapters to Carla for editing.

Now I had to get the manuscript into the form iUniverse wanted: a single file looking the way I wanted the book to look, though of course they would do the line-breaks and page-breaks to fit the page size.

The option characters were the first problem. I run a Mac system. So did Carla, my editor. So did just about everyone else I knew—but iUniverse didn’t, and I’ve had past problems attempting to transfer option characters (em- and en-dashes, double and single curly quotes, and ellipsis) from Mac to Windows. I wasn’t sure it would transfer properly, but I used the find-and-replace to change double hyphens to em-dashes and triple periods to ellipsis. Straight to curly quotes? I knew I could do it with autoformat, but I also knew that would mess up half a dozen other things, starting with spacing between paragraphs. Besides, I had been told that iUniverse had the software to change straight to curly quotes.

So I proceeded to start a new document. I put in the title page for the first section, then copied and pasted the chapters for that section, one at a time, to the bottom of the section. Then the second section, the third and the fourth. Finally, I copied and pasted the second section to the bottom of the first (with the proper page breaks inserted) and added the third and the fourth. I went through to make sure that the point of view character and the date were properly inserted at the head of each subsection (what had been chapters) but at that point I had been through the manuscript, chapter by chapter, so often that I wasn’t sure I’d recognize errors if they hit me over the head. So I did not reread the entire manuscript—after all, all I’d done was paste the chapters together.

Big mistake.

By the end of November I was ready to submit the manuscript to iUniverse—something I could supposedly do through their website. That didn’t work (manuscript size? Mac system?) but I was able to complete the submission by attaching files to e-mails. I got word from iUniverse December 11 that my manuscript was ready for editorial evaluation. When I let them know I’d be away for the holidays December 20 through January 6, they assured me the editorial evaluation normally took two to three weeks not including weekends and holidays.

I got word Friday the 18th, after they’d left for the day, that:
The editorial evaluation was complete and attached
I qualified for Editors’ Choice with minor changes
The Rising Star board wanted me to send back a marketing plan and title information sheet (my computer couldn’t read their form) within 7 days.

By the time any of them would be back in the office I’d be in Arizona, and while I could get e-mail through the web, I wasn’t at all sure I could send attachments.

I sent off a flurry of e-mails, figuring they’d get them Monday morning. I got the answers—extra time from Rising Star and take the time you need from the editorial board, the next Monday—thank goodness my sister and brother-in-law in Arizona have a wi-fi connection among their computers! I’d already seen that the editorial evaluation was good except for two sections: the marketing materials needed polish and the grammar and formatting needed work.

The marketing comments I ignored—the package I had purchased from iUniverse included editorial polish of marketing materials, and besides, the change they suggested was plain wrong. (They changed an intransitive verb to a passive transitive, completely changing my meaning.) Unfortunately their polishers made exactly the same change for the cover of the book and eventually on the marketing material initially published by—but I didn’t know about that, yet.

The grammar examples they gave me were where I put my paragraph breaks and commas. Mostly stuff that is really author’s voice. Then I started checking out the formatting.

Remember I said it was a mistake to trust Word?

As nearly as I can figure out what happened, Word gave random paragraphs an extra quarter inch inset, added 6 points below them, and garbled the italics, sometimes changing italics to plain and sometimes plain to italics. I went through the entire manuscript line by line, correcting these errors and finding a few places where intended italics were still underlined. Then I sent it back, repeating my request that straight quotes be changed to curly ones.

For the first time they said they couldn’t.

I knew the em-dash and the ellipsis worked, so I hoped the curly quotes would, and made the changes via find-and-replace as follows:
1. Change “space straight double quote” to “space left curly double quote.”
2. Change “tab character straight double quote” to “tab character left curly double quote.”
3. Change “straight double quote space” to “right curly double quote space.”
4. Change “straight double quote paragraph symbol” to “right curly quote paragraph symbol.”
5. Change all single quotes to right curly single quotes.

These changes took care of everything except the few cases where I had nested quotes—e.g, “He told me ‘forget it.’” But I had also used space single quote for shortened words—e g, ’ported for teleported, and those needed a right single quote. I set word to find and change “space single quote” to “space left curly single quote,” but this had to be done one change at a time. Luckily, there weren’t that many single quotes at the beginnings of words, and I finished the changes and sent the manuscript back in late January. By January 29, the book went to the production department, and the editing process and my fights with Word were over—for Homecoming.

I’ll know better on the sequel.

Insulin Pumps

Every cell in your body needs sugar as fuel, but it can’t use that sugar without a hormone called insulin. In a healthy person, an organ called the pancreas pumps out just enough insulin. Sugar in the bloodstream is used by the cells for energy or stored in the liver or as fat. People with Type 1 diabetes, however, cannot make their own insulin. People with Type 2 diabetes may eventually lose the ability to make insulin as well.

It doesn’t do any good to take insulin by mouth; insulin is a protein and the digestive system just breaks it down and uses the amino acids as building blocks. If you can’t make insulin, it has to be delivered to the blood stream. As a practical matter, the insulin is injected into the fat layer just under the skin, and from there diffuses into the blood stream. It has to reach the blood stream at just the right rate—too little insulin in the blood and blood sugar will skyrocket (very bad for you long-term), too much and the blood sugar can go so low that the brain shuts down. (I used this in Homecoming—the esper shock that afflicts those capable of talents like teleportation is simply low blood sugar.)

Unfortunately the rate of diffusion has nothing to do with the body’s need for insulin, either to pull down the blood sugar after eating, or to keep the cells of the heart and brain operating. There are artificial insulins available which diffuse faster or slower, and it is possible to take a very slow diffusing insulin to keep the basal metabolism (the heart, lungs, digestion, brain) going and shots of fast-diffusing insulin at mealtimes to deal with the sudden surge of sugar that digestion puts into the blood. But your metabolism varies with time of day, exercise, stress, hormones and other things, most of which are not well understood and often beyond your control.

Enter the insulin pump. Lots of people think that an insulin pump means your diabetes is really bad. Others think it’s just a convenience to keep from having to take shots, or that it does all the work for you. (It doesn’t.) None of these ideas really explains the advantages of an insulin pump.

It is true that changing the place where the pump injects insulin under your skin every three days is a lot less painful than taking five or six shots a day. And there is no question that it is easier to push a few buttons before eating at a restaurant than finding a rest room where you can load a hypodermic and expose your belly for a shot. But an insulin pump can do more than that—if you are willing to work at it.

First, the dosage with today’s pumps is much more exact than is possible with a conventional shot. With a hypodermic or an insulin pen, you can at best get the dosage to the nearest half unit. That may sound precise, but for some people half a unit of insulin is the difference between normal blood sugar and insulin shock, and a whole unit can drop blood sugar from normal to zero. Luckily even fast-acting insulin does not get into the blood as fast as glucose taken by mouth, so it is generally possible to correct for these rough dosages, but why not take the right dose to start with? Almost all of today’s pumps allow you to select the dose to within a tenth of a unit, and at least two pumps now allow even more exact dosages.

Second the basal insulin, the stuff that is dripped slowly and continuously into your system to balance your basal metabolism, can be adjusted to vary by time of day. This is not important for everyone, but some people need as much as twice the amount of insulin per hour at waking as they do when falling asleep. With long-acting insulin, this means a choice of insulin shock overnight or high blood sugar in the morning. With a properly adjusted pump, the rate of infusion of basal insulin can be adjusted in hourly or even half hourly increments.

The downsides? Insulin pumps do continue to deliver basal insulin even if your blood sugar is too low. The FDA has been worried about this. There is a pump available in Europe which when combined with a continuous glucose monitor will shut down if the wearer does not respond to a low blood glucose alarm. As far as I am concerned this is a fail-safe that increases the safety of insulin pumps, but the FDA still has not approved this feature for the USA market.

Another downside is that you have to learn to use the pump, and adjust its features to suit your own body. You will probably need to test your blood sugar more frequently, up to fifteen times a day. Some people are freaked out by the idea of being continuously connected to a machine, even one smaller than a deck of cards. And if you don’t have a waterproof model swimming and even bathing can cause problems.

Is it worth it? Yes, especially for those who are insulin sensitive or for those whose need for insulin varies quite a lot over the course of a day. But you do have to be prepared for a lot of work to get it working as it can.

The Bargain

Long ago and far away
We made a bargain,
Your forefathers and ours.
One could find game, sharp-nosed, keen-eared, alert to every breeze.
One had spears to kill in safety.
One too often died beneath defending hooves
One too often found no target for his spears.
So we made the bargain:
One to find and one to kill, and the meat to share.

The years passed, and the bargain changed:
Tend our flocks.
Fight our wars.
Pull our sledges.
Guard our children,
Lead our blind.
Amuse us.
Love us, when all the world has abandoned us.

And on the other side, the same:
Share the food.
Share the fire.
Share our lives.

Wolf that was, how can I break the old bargain now?


The Editing Process

The Festival of the Book introduced me to assisted self-publishing, but the panel members stressed something else as well—the importance of having your work professionally edited before submitting it. As I went through the guidelines for iUniverse, I found the same thing—submit your edited manuscript. Editorial evaluation was part of the package, but was I as ready as I thought I was?

At that point, the manuscript was formatted for hard copy submission. Double spaced Courier text, careful avoidance of option characters such as curly quotes and em-dashes, headers and footers, page numbers, underlining for italics and chapters as separate files. iUniverse wanted Times New Roman and a single file. I’ll talk later about the problems this caused me, but my main concern at the moment was finding an editor locally.

Back when I was writing the Alaska Science Forum I’d worked with an editor, and we generally wound up with something better than I could have done alone. Carla suggested rather than insisting, but her suggestions usually made sense. Further, she’d seen one of the very early versions of the manuscript and liked it. I hadn’t seen her for years, but when I phoned her she graciously agreed to edit the manuscript and suggested I e-mail her the chapters (57 of them at that point.) After skimming what I had sent her, she immediately made one suggestion that has a lot to do with the current shape of Homecoming—forget putting things in strict chronological order, which resulted in chapters jumping back and forth between planets several hundred light years apart and not knowing of each others’ existence. Instead, put the action on Central first and only then put in the simultaneous action on Riya. That was done in July ‘09, and it was a major improvement. Then in August Carla settled down to the serious, chapter-by-chapter editing.

Editing does several things. First, it catches grammatical errors—not many of those; my mother was a retired schoolteacher and I grew up speaking correctly or else.

Then it called my attention to ambiguities that I could not see because I knew who was speaking or to whom a pronoun referred. That’s a real problem in any kind of writing. You can write a conversation, even a long one, without tags (at least if only two people are involved.) But the chances are that your reader will forget who’s speaking after a couple of exchanges. Carla caught that kind of problem, and encouraged me to break up the longer conversations with action—even something as simple as a character looking away, or getting a cup of chocolate. As for pronouns, the rule is to use the character’s name if there is any remote chance the reader will be uncertain who “he” or “she” is. Of course there are times you may be deliberately using the pronouns to say something about a character, such as Zhaim’s use of “it” when referring to a slave, or Davy’s refusal to name someone he disapproves of.

There were places where we argued about changes. I remember one place where the change Carla suggested changed my meaning. Eventually I realized that my original phrasing, much as I liked it, was obviously not getting across the idea that I wanted, and I had to rewrite the phrase. I didn’t like the rewrite as well as I did my original, but it left less room for confusion.

I don’t know if all editors do this, but Carla again and again said of something I mentioned as having happened, “that should be a scene.” So I’d add a scene—sometimes no more than a sentence or two, sometimes several pages. The slaves’ discovery of the cave is one of those scenes, as are Marna’s visits to her mother’s home and to the Healers’ Center. I think that the book is the better for them.

By the end of October we reached the point where my manuscript needed only to be put into the format iUniverse required. By that time I had it in Times New Roman, single spaced, with a tab character beginning each paragraph. I had cautiously used the find and replace option on Word to change double dashes to em-dashes and triple periods to ellipses, and I was assured (wrongly as it turned out) that iUniverse could change my straight quotes and apostrophes to curly ones. I needed only to stitch the chapters together into a single manuscript, and I could send it in. I thought. Little did I know of the wars with Word to come—but that’s another story.

Ever wonder why astronomy books refer to the precession cycle as being 26,000 years long while discussions of the Milankovitch cycles in the Earth’s orbit, which almost certainly affect the climate of our planet, invariably have a shorter precession cycle, averaging around 23,000 years? The problem is that they are using the same word for two slightly different things.

Milankovitch precession. Note that positive values correspond to minimum seasonal contrast in the Northern hemisphere.

Astronomical precession refers to the gradual change in the direction the earth’s axis is pointing relative to the fixed stars. This is a very slow change relative to a human lifetime, but obvious enough when records are kept that the ancient Greeks were aware of it. We know now that this precession is due to the pull of the sun and the moon on the equatorial bulge of the Earth. They can’t actually pull the rotating earth straight, any more than leaning a little sideways on a rapidly moving bicycle will make it topple sideways. What it will do is make the bicycle turn. The corresponding effect on the earth is that the direction the axis points describes a very slow circle in the sky. Right now the earth’s axis points at Polaris, the North Star, but this has not always been true. In about 12,000 years the pole star will be Vega, which is a much brighter star.

The stars other than the sun, however, have little to do with our climate and weather. For that, the important factor is not the direction that the earth’s axis is pointing in the heavens, but how that direction interacts with the earth’s distance from the sun. The earth’s orbit is not a circle, but an ellipse. Currently perihelion (which just means closest to the sun) is around January 4. Half the year later is aphelion (farthest from the sun.) If the earth’s axis is pointing most nearly toward the sun (summer solstice) at perihelion, the summer will be hot but short and the winter will be long and cold. This is currently true of the South pole. The North pole, however, is pointing almost away from the sun at perihelion, so the northern hemisphere has relatively cool, long summers. The effect is slight, especially since the eccentricity (a measure of the difference in distance from the earth to the sun between perihelion and aphelion) is currently very small.

The difference between astronomical precession and the interaction above is due to the fact that the earth’s elliptical orbit itself rotates in space due to the pull of the other planets, especially Jupiter and Saturn. This rotation is not as uniform as astronomical precession, hence the combined precession (which is what is used in the Milankovitch cycles) does not always have the same cycle length. On average it is around 23,000 years, but this varies. The strength of the effect also varies, due to the change over time in eccentricity.

The two figures (if I can figure out how to get them from Excel into the blog) show the precession effect and the eccentricity for the last 200,000 years. Note that the precession shown here is positive when the northern hemisphere summers are cool and long, and negative when the northern hemisphere summers are hot and short. Also note that the precession effect is out of phase in the two hemispheres. The different distribution of land and ocean in the two hemispheres is generally though to be the reason that the seasonality is most important in the northern hemisphere.

If I can figure out how to do a better job with Excel charts, I’ll do it.